Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather A. Hill quietly wiped away a tear after the woman she was prosecuting told the judge her story today.
“I believe in her, and it’s not often I stand in front of court and say that,” Hill said a few minutes later during the federal sentencing of Thomasina C. Howard. “I believe in her promise.”
A short time later, Howard, 39, of Elaine Road on the East Side, was sentenced to five years in prison for conspiracy for sex trafficking of a child.
She pleaded guilty in August to convincing a 16-year-old female relative to become a prostitute for East Side pimp Valerio Valentine Alexander, who is awaiting sentencing.
U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus could have sentenced Howard to life in prison, but agreed to honor the binding sentence contained in a sealed plea agreement that Howard signed.
“The government has relied upon very substantial assistance given by this defendant,” Sargus said.
He noted that Howard had been abused as a child, had “significant” untreated mental health issues and had a cocaine addiction. Still, he characterized the offense as “about as egregious as can be.”
Before Sargus handed down the sentence, Howard made a private statement to the judge, her attorney and to Hill, bringing tears to Hill’s eyes.
Howard and Alexander forced the 16-year-old to have sex for money at least once. The girl ran away and notified law enforcement. Investigators found that Alexander had a number of females working for him at an East Side apartment he used as a brothel.
Howard and Alexander, 46, of Genoa Place, were indicted in April on the sex-trafficking charges.
Alexander pleaded guilty in January and signed a plea agreement that mandates a 15-year prison sentence. Sargus rejected his request to withdraw his plea in March.
Howard has prior convictions in Franklin County Common Pleas Court for theft, robbery and drug possession.
No date has been set for Alexander’s sentencing.
Tips about people involved in human trafficking can be relayed through the national toll-free hotline at 888-373-7888 or by texting “help” or “info” to BeFree.
By Kathy Lynn Gray - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services